The Adventures and Challenges of Life Overseas

Making Big Purchases in a Foreign Country

While living in Budapest I had the task of purchasing a washing machine and dryer for my new rental house. I’d  looked at the appliances the previous weekend, so I felt confident going into the situation. (That was probably my first mistake.) I went to Auchen; which I’ve been told is a French store similar to a Super Walmart. On this visit, to a different location, no one in the appliances department spoke English, fabulous.

Having lived in Budapest fourteen months, and had a million good experiences with Hungarian’s speaking English I knew there was at least one English speaker in the store. I pressed my luck and I insisted through sign language and basic English, that the sales man call someone who could speak English and help me. I waited, and I looked at the machines.

Eleven Languages I Can’t Speak

The machine I’d looked at previously stood in front of me. From my walk around it appeared to be the only washing machine and dryer combination in the store. I wasn’t going to be picky, It was time to exit doing laundry in the 14th century. After ten minutes a young woman appeared to help. She spoke excellent English and she confirmed that the machine was in fact a washer and a dryer. We looked inside the washing machine/dryer for a manual. There was a manual in eleven languages; just none of them English, #@!? On my last visit the manual included English, this was not going well; how was I supposed to figure out the many features and buttons in languages I couldn’t speak?

Washer

Google to the rescue, soon we were googling the machine; we quickly found the company site and  a download version in English. The site stopped working and wouldn’t complete the email process. On we went, next we found a YouTube video that wasn’t half bad.  I didn’t envision that when I thought about buying a washer and dryer in Hungary. At that point I told her I would like to purchase the machine. At some point you have to simply have faith.

48 Hours and a Gift

48 hours later my washer and dryer arrived; best of all the delivery men brought me an owners manual in English. I could have kissed the guy I was so happy. My washer and dryer work and I can report that I am figuring out the many settings it offers. It is a little challenging but that comes with living overseas. If I was looking for every day to be just like living in America; I’d be living in America. Instead I’m living a European adventure.

 

 

 

 

My Top Ten Favorites in Hungary

I’ve lived in Hungary one year and two months; in that time I have come to love many things about Hungary. Here are my top ten favorite things about Hungary.

 

architecture

1. The people in Hungary are very friendly, helpful and kind to me.

2. Running a close second are the beautiful sights of Budapest; especially the historic and ornate bridges, Buda Castle and Parliament. They are beautiful visual reminders that I live in Hungary.

3. The Hungarian festivals that allow me to see more of the local Hungarian culture.

4. I love that Budapest is filled with beautiful architecture.

5. Hungary offers excellent cold fruit soups and delicious fresh picked plums.

6. I love that Hungarians welcome my dog Tanner within Budapest and when we travel.

7. Hungary has excellent, well marked highways.

8. Budapest has beautiful homes for rent with many amenities; think steam showers, in home saunas, dishwashers, American style kitchens.

9. Hungary and Europe offer amazing travel opportunities.

10. Budapest offers an excellent expat community.

These are my top ten favorite things about life in Hungary. Check back for more insights into life in Hungarian culture and life in Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Decision to Rent & Lease a Car in Hungary

Transportation and Life in Budapest

I’ve been living in Budapest for seven months. It’s been exciting, challenging and lately annoying with a variety of transportation issues. Budapest is not Berlin. Most transportation does not run all night long. One of the main tram lines, the 4  makes a ring around many city destinations. It stops at 11:23 pm and doesn’t resume until 4:53 am. Seriously? What is up with that? 11:23, as if everyone wants to be home before midnight…this is not Cinderella. This is real life, and that means taking a bus or  a taxi for every event that doesn’t end by 11 pm. There are still late night and middle of the night connections on the tram 6, but that only covers portions of the city. Living off of that line means taking a bus or taxi.

Alternative Transportation

The city transportation company bkv.hu does offer buses that run thoughout the night, these tend to run twice an hour. If you don’t hit it just right you’re waiting out in the dark, and or cold for 30 minutes late at night, fun stuff….. Taxi’s are plentiful and they can be reasonable if you’re sharing the fare with friends. If not, it can get costly. My average taxi ride is $20 US, though I have paid as much as $50 US a few times for a long taxi ride. The price is better if you call ahead and order the taxi. Flagging one down on the street in Budapest is costly. My co workers and I have also walked to major hotels in the city and ordered one from there. It’s simple, safe and offers you the option to wait inside the hotel until the taxi arrives.

I’M OVER IT

fiat car

Photo Credit varadero1964

After seven months of trams, metro and buses I decided while I was on my winter vacation to lease a car. I’d had enough of winter, of waiting for late transportation and for late night buses that were running infrequently. I wanted simplicity and convenience. I have enough on my plate living and working in a foreign country. I also realized I was spending about four times longer to get everywhere than my coworkers with cars. A grocery trip that takes 10 minutes door to door by car, takes 35 on foot and by bus or tram. It’s crazy!

Mainly shopping is a challenge because the buses and trams only have certain stops, and the nearest large grocery is a ten minute walk from the tram. So first you walk a few blocks to the tram or bus stop, you catch the tram, you ride a few stops, you get off, you walk ten minutes. You’ve now managed to waste at least 35 minutes, more if you didn’t quite make your connections. Then there is the added cost of taxi’s to get large amounts of groceries and supplies home. It is both expensive and exhausting dealing with all of it. That was the clincher for me. I’d literally HAD ENOUGH, it was sucking away my energy, and precious time.

 How Did I Lease a Car in Budapest?

I didn’t lease, I rented. A foreigner can’t lease a car in Hungary. This is because as foreigners we don’t receive a permanent living permit  to stay in Hungary. You must have a permanent card to lease. (There may be ways to receive this card, such as foreigners married to Hungarian citizens. Though I don’t know for certain.)

My Decision To Rent a Car Long Term 

I opted to rent a car for a long period of time. This is giving me a  few important perks. It allowed me to negotiate a better price, and it gave me time to decide if I want to buy a car in Hungary. It is over $400 US a month to rent, (if you can negotiate and work out a deal as I did. Some agencies will quote you a cost far higher, initally.) My first quote came in at over 600 US, which was completely out of the question.  I had to make compromises.  I had to accept a standard car, with no automatic transmission, which was my last choice. I also chose to rent a sub compact to save money on fuel costs. Gas in Budapest (if I’ve done the correct conversion between dollars and forient and liters and gallons), comes in around $8.80 a gallon. At that price I want an economical car. Another perk of my long term rental is that the insurance is provided, and auto insurance in Hungary is expensive. In addition the rental agency takes care of checking and filling fluids on the car each month.

 How Do I Feel Now, With a Car?

I’ve had the car only four days and it feels LIFE CHANGING. I am so much happier. It is so convenient and so much simplier. Wow, I wish I’d made this decision months ago. Yes, the cost is high, but my piece of mind, my time and my frustration at slogging through snow, ice and dragging groceries home on trams and buses is worth the cost. I am happy getting into my car, and getting where I need to be, on my time frame. That feels life changing in Budapest.

 

 

Banking in Hungary: Living in Budapest

Banking in Hungary

As an expat living overseas, the things which affect my every day life are the things I want to run smoothly. Banking for instance….  banking has it’s up’s and downs in Hungary. I have found myself happy in some instances banking in Budapest, and extremely frustrated at other times. So what’s the scoop on banking in Budapest?

It’s Complicated

Banks have shorter hours here and banking transactions require planning ahead. Living as an expat  also means remembering that bank transactions require your passport or your residence permit (a legal card received with proper documentation to live and work in Hungary.)

Around  the city there are branches with later hours, though they may not be convenient or close to your neighborhood. Banks, (at least mine) seem to have rotating late hours, one or two days a week at most branches. If you’re lucky the branch near you is open on the night you need it. Otherwise you’re trekking around the city looking for the open branches.

Wire Transfers or Do We Live in the Dark Ages?

Wire transfers are very frustrating in Budapest. I have successfully sent several wire tranfers now, and know the procedure. They still annoy me and I have found it is easiest to do them by phone. (Which is quite funny actually, as I CAN’T do a wire transfer by phone at my US bank.) So in a few ways banking is more advanced in Hungary.

The fact that I can complete a wire transfer over the phone, when it’s convenient, is a perk, I’m grateful. It makes my life a little simpler. Lets preface that  a little simpler AFTER you’ve done it at least twice. The first time I did a wire transfer over the phone I spent no less than 45 minutes on the phone, made two phone calls and got really peeved at a bank employee. It was not a pleasant experience for either of us. I persevered and it worked.

IT TAKES HOW LONG??

Though I said wire transfers are simpler, I didn’t say they were fast. A snail could move faster. I sent a wire transfer to the states in my first weeks here and I believe it took about seven days to arrive. I was hopping mad by that time and had called the bank multiple times to check that it had been sent.

After all, we do this electronically through a computer system. How in the world can it take seven days to connect electronically to a US bank and wire the money? I have no idea. One would think a wire transfer within Europe would be faster, such as to my landlords. That would be a big fat NO. It takes nearly as long. I could drive to Austria faster! The last one took at least four to five days.

So You Want US Dollars?

Ha…ha…plan ahead, or plan to visit the bank more than one time.  I realize US dollars are a foreign currency. I realize the bank  may not have as much US money available at the local branches. (Though with Budapest being a capital city and it having a large expat community one would imagine there are often US expats looking to withdraw US dollars for travel or other expenses.)

What’s the Procedure?

Call 24 hours ahead and request the US dollar transaction. This is rarely something I remember. So that  has been an annoyance from day one. Here is what I have learned after a few months living in Budapest. After talking to my bank I learned  that you can withdraw less than $1,000 US dollars without an advance request. If you need more than that,  you call ahead,  Or, if  you don’t have time to call ahead,  you have to visit the bank on two different days or visit two different branches. Did I say banking was convenient in Budapest? I did not.

Online Banking and Banking in English

This is where Hungarian banking really rocks. When I went to my bank the first time to set up my account the paperwork was in English. Everything was simple to understand (relatively) and pretty painless. It did take time, and there were many papers to sign but overall I had  a very smooth experience. The staff as the branch I use speak English well and are friendly. I’m very pleased in that regard with banking in Hungary.

 I can also call and check my balance and transfer money by phone. All with a representative that speaks English. Which is more than I can say for those moving to the states and dealing with U.S. banks. I seriously doubt they have the banking support system I enjoy here. In addition banks in Hungary offer their website in English. I doubt U.S banks offer expats that kind of service.

Bank Fees in a Cash Society

Some would say this is still a cash society. Bank cards are taken at many places, though I run into instances where restaurants or hair cutting salons only take cash. Of course that means I don’t have cash on me that day and I am then rushing off to find another ATM. Because there are instances when I need to pay in cash I am often taking money out of ATM machines. Here taking money from an ATM (even your own) costs a fee. I also learned that using your debit card often costs a fee as well.

So in a city with banks closing fairly early and the need to use an ATM fairly high and debit cards often, it really sucks to see my bank statement and realize I paid $35 dollars (US) in fees for this past month. (Keep in mind that I pay only $45 US for an at home vet visit with two medications and a nail trim.)  So $35 US is expensive for fees. Multiply that by twelve months and you are talking over four hundred US dollars.

You Don’t Have Checks?

One of the first things I discovered in Hungary is that banks don’t offer checks. There are NO checks in Hungary. That was shocking. Not that I use them often in the U.S. But I do use them sometimes. Most expats have US bills to pay  and I normally use online banking; but I like the idea of an additional option when I need it.

Bill Paying/Banking in Hungary (and in Europe)

banking, bill paying

 

Bills are paid one of three ways. Either with a banki átutalás which means bank transfer, online or at the post office. Paying by bank transfer or at the post office I understood when I arrived, thanks to the years I lived in Germany. So at least in this regard complexities were simplified. Though nearly every transaction at the post office requires pantomime or google translate. (By the time I leave Hungary I should be great at charades!) I continue to remain grateful that people in Hungary are friendly and helpful and really do go out of their way to assist me.

It is sometimes eye opening to learn new procedures and ways of doing things in a foreign country. Sometimes experiences are baffling and occassionally unnerving, but overall  I treasure my experience of living in Budapest and love my life here.